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An Unwilling Party

How Craig Dilger defended the University of Louisville against furious fans

Published in 2022 Kentucky Super Lawyers Magazine

When a group of angry fans sued the NCAA over the loss of the University of Louisville men’s 2013 basketball championship title—and pulled the U of L into the lawsuit—Craig Dilger, repping for the university, had to strike a delicate balance.

The team had been stripped of its title—and all 123 wins from 2011 to 2014—after a woman alleged that a former U of L staffer had paid her escort service to perform striptease dances and sexual acts for prospective and former basketball players from 2010 to 2014. The NCAA eventually deemed those players ineligible. It was the first time in modern basketball history that the men’s Division I championship had been vacated.

Initially, the university appealed the decision, but complied after the NCAA upheld its ruling. “It wasn’t that the university wasn’t upset about losing the championship,” Dilger says, “but they had to be conscious of the fact that any further sort of grinding was not going to be good for them.” 

Soon after, though, rumblings were heard from a group of fans, the University of Louisville Protection and Advocacy Coalition, which in 2018 named the university as a party to its lawsuit. 

“They filed the lawsuit and tried to get it certified as a class action,” Dilger says. “And, mistakenly in my mind, [they] named the university on both sides of the v, which is just not really feasible. I mean, you can’t be a plaintiff and a defendant.” 

But Dilger had to be careful when drafting motions and briefs. “We were only focusing on the legal issues,” he says, “with little to no comment that would further inflame the fan base.

“Ultimately, what we decided to do was focus all of our energy on a particular legal principle that seemed to not be offensive to anyone—which was that the university could not be added to the lawsuit as an unwilling party.”

It worked; the case was dismissed in October 2018. “We won on that procedural rule, but we got to the procedural rule largely because we had to throw out a lot of the things that we would normally fight,” Dilger says. “At the end of the day, I think the fans looked at that and said, ‘We really want the championship back, but, yeah, we get it.’ You can’t just add the university to whatever kind of lawsuit you want and force them to be a party.”

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